– Spoiler Review –
Dreading what may all transpire, especially for fans of Dr. Aphra, in the final issue of the Darth Vader series is to be expected. What was also to be expected, and thoroughly confirmed after reading Darth Vader #25’s final page, is how Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado have wrapped up their modern classic with a riveting, enjoyable, tear-inducing, and full-circle ending that’ll be long remembered.
Over the course of 25 issues, this series has been leading to Vader’s return to power after the disaster that was the Death Star’s destruction. Throughout it, Vader has overcome a series a rivals, created by Dr. Cylo, in an attempt to keep his power and stay on the good side of the Emperor. And along the way he learned and confirmed a galaxy-shattering truth: the Emperor lied to him for over 20 years, a revelation he makes upon learning his wife lived long enough to give birth to a son (he’s still unaware of Leia, of course). As the true nature of his apprenticeship to Palpatine finally became clear, Vader set out to not only gain back his power simply to defeat his enemies, but to ensure a greater chance at doing what all Sith do: usurp their master. To achieve his goals, Vader picked up an unlikely trio: street-smart weapons archaeologist Dr. Aphra and her two murder-prone droids Triple-Zero and BT-1, who have proven their worth to the Dark Lord time and time again even if that means little to him in the long run. Together, the story and characters, especially the portrayal of Vader throughout and his new friends, have won the hearts of fans and critics everywhere. That definitely includes me and I can say, without a single doubt in my mind, not only is Darth Vader #25 an absolutely satisfying conclusion to this series, but it cements Darth Vader as the modern classic it deserves to be called.
Vader wastes no time with Cylo, brutally and swiftly dispatching him and his remaining clones in a true show of just how powerful the Force is, especially on those who favor over reliance on technology and machines. Gunning straight for Cylo’s command whale ship (that’ll never not be weird to write), Vader cuts through the ship’s marines and the remaining Cylos that Cylo-VI activates. In one of the best Vader lines to date, while chopping up the remaining clones, he says, “That I can kill you repeatedly is by far your most appealing trait,” something so dark I can’t help but laugh at. Number VI keeps going on and on about how immortal he is, how perfect of a system he is, but Vader just doesn’t have time for all the chatting and uses Cylo’s reliance on tweaking organics to what he considers perfection against him: Vader mind-tricks the brain of the whale to have it fly into the nearest sun. Befitting of this epic and brutal, though ultimately very thorough death of Cylo, a whole beautiful splash page is dedicated to the whale ship disintegrating into the sun, Vader flying safely away. Does vanquishing his foe excite Vader? Is he proud of his achievements? Or did he just consider Cylo to be another fly on the wall along his way towards his ultimate goal of defeating his master and recruiting his son? Considering just moments after he epically destroys Cylo he strolls into the Executor‘s throne room and simply asks Palpatine, “Is there anything else you require, my master?” I’d say it was the latter. It’s like the Sith Lord didn’t even break a sweat and merely felt…inconvenienced by Cylo’s antics. Bad-freaking-ass, if you ask me, something time and time again this series has brought to Vader’s reputation.
The next to fall is Grand General Tagge, demoted for his complicity in Cylo’s schemes against the Empire. Tagge tries to prove his worth, rambling about all his achievements, ideas, and how even his mistakes led to improvements in the Empire, but just like in issue #2 when Vader is first put under Tagge’s thumb, Vader just doesn’t care. This man crossed him, belittled him, and got in his way, which means his only fate will be death. Vader chokes out Tagge in front of Admiral Ozzel, who should be recognizable (especially thanks to Larroca’s art) to anyone who has seen The Empire Strikes Back. It was quite interesting to see Tagge fallen so far, unlike Cylo who stood tall until the very end, as when we first met Tagge he was full of himself, teasing Vader, asserting his dominance in military ranking only, and making sweeping theatrical-gestures out of the arrogance of his position of power. In issue #25, he’s hanging his head, avoiding Vader’s gaze, and whimpering like a dog to hopefully survive past Vader’s judgment of his transgressions. All he ends up being is a cold, lifeless reminder to Ozzel not to displease Vader when he demands the Executor ready ahead of schedule. Oh how the mighty have fallen and how quickly his survival of the Death Star came to an end.
As writer Kieron Gillen has been saying in various interviews, this series was all about showing how Vader goes from being part of the single greatest disaster in the Empire’s history to having even more power than he did before. Proving Cylo to be a traitor, despite sharing the same ambitions to take over the Empire, to uncovering Tagge’s complicity in the traitor’s schemes were both valid reasons for Palpatine to think Vader had done some good for the Empire despite his giant failure. But what Palpatine was really looking for besides a show of power like defeating said enemies, was that his apprentice would do whatever it took, killed as many people he needed to kill, and underhandedly gained his own influence and power again, all ways for Vader to prove to Sheev he was still worthy to be his apprentice. Vader fulfilled all the above over the course of the last 25 issues, while gaining even more leverage and purpose than Palpatine ever could’ve hoped for (like learning about his son). Add in the fact that the Emperor has already shown his hand: when Vader learns he has a son, he realizes Palpatine lied to him all these years, and now the question becomes what else is he lying about; in issue #20, Palpatine’s candid chat was a great show of his biggest weakness, overconfidence, as well as his purported prowess with foreseeing everything coming severely into question. These reveals to Vader, along with his new lease on power and the possibility of someone to join him to overthrow his master, become his only waking thought. He’s so focused on his new goal he barely seems to care about the Emperor’s enthusiasm and excitement over how he’s proven himself again to be a capable Sith Lord. In fact, the two final before credits pages (more on what’s after the credits in a bit) contain some gorgeously rendered moments, including the red misted backdrop to Vader’s imagining of reaching out and connecting to his son (the red mist I take to indicate Vader’s rage), followed by a panel of Vader saying “Soon,” but the perspective makes it look like he’s still so far away from reaching his goal. Just as powerful as Gillen’s writing has been, Larroca and Delgaldo’s art and colors can speak just as many words, and have done so repeatedly over the course of the series. So as promised, Vader is now even more powerful than he was in the first issue, back on top with the power of the Empire at his disposal, which he intends to use much like he did all series: to undermine the Emperor and become more powerful than he already is.
Aphra’s encounter with Palpatine goes way better than I suspected, as she not only survives the whole ordeal, but even Palpatine seems to take a liking to her. His main reason for liking her comes from her betrayal of Vader, spilling the secrets about everything he’s done over the series, because it helps Palpatine realize his apprentice isn’t a waste of space anymore. In a weird way, Vader should probably be thanking Aphra, but she tells him she just wants things to go back to normal. It makes a lot of sense to me, too, that they should just let the whole thing slide (considering I’m such a big Aphra fan). But despite everything she has done for him, since the moment they met to helping him gain Palpatine’s approval at the very end, the scene I had been dreading (for what felt like years) began to unfold on the pages in front of me: Vader was escorting Aphra to the airlock. Way back in issue #4, Aphra told Vader that not only did she know he’d have to kill her at some point, but she requested for it to be done via lightsaber and not out the airlock, but Vader is never merciful (more on that point in a moment!). I tried everything I could to avoid allowing the scene to play out, from reading it very slowly, imagining Vader was going to break character to say, “kidding!” and so much more. But no matter how much Aphra pleaded, the tears rolling down her face, neither her nor I could avoid the inevitable. As she floated out in the cold vacuum of space, her death surely in hand, I finally realized I had been crying the whole time. It was the single most heartbreaking moment in this series and any other Star Wars series to date: my favorite character, a bright shining star of creativity, spunk, and twisted morality was dead. I almost didn’t want to finish reading the rest of the issue, so angry the inevitable had seemingly come true.
I glared heavily at the end credits page once I mustered through to the ending, Aphra still left dead in space….then I flipped the page and let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding. The series’ end credits sequence unfolded, showing Dr. Aphra being pulled in from space, using the tech employed in the heist of Imperial credits in issue #8, with some help from Krrsantan, Triple-Zero, and BT-1! Suddenly DV #25 went from having the biggest heartbreak in comics (for me) to the best moment yet: Dr. Aphra lives!!!! Proving why she’s been such a brilliant character, and diabolical genius, Aphra used Vader’s lack of mercy to ensure her own survival. Only someone who thought similarly to him in some respects could’ve realized the best way to live was to make Vader think he killed you by letting him kill you. Convoluted, sure. Genius, you freaking bet. The fact that Dr. Aphra survived working with Vader, heck, even outsmarting him and beating him at his own game (in this case death and destruction) only increases my love for her. But what puts me over the moon for her special brand of insanity is how she smiles after everything and admits, “…that was fun.” There’s not a character alive, besides her, who could go up against Vader and say she had fun, even when he “killed” her in the end. What her survival means for her future is anyone’s guess, but I feel like even if she would continue procuring long forgotten weapons and bringing them back to the galaxy still using the name Dr. Aphra, she’ll likely fly under Vader’s radar not only because he’s got bigger fish to fry (like recruiting his son to help overthrow the Emperor) but also because he won’t be living for much longer. Sure, Aphra’s lifestyle means she’ll have plenty of run-ins with death, but since he survived death itself, there’s a high chance she’ll be alive for quite some time. It would be pretty cool to have Vader end up chasing her down at one point and see if she can survive again, but like I said I think he’s not going to be concerning himself with her anymore. If there’s one reason he would, it’d be because he could be worried she has enough information to connect the dots regarding his obsession with Luke and her job from him to visit Padme’s mortician. But that those stories and dreams are for her own series….which was just announced today (as I had been hoping and dreaming for awhile now)!! From her survival in #25 to the announcement of her headlining a new on-going series, this is one of the best days in Star Wars comics ever. UPDATE: Doctor Aphra‘s first issue is out and here’s my review!
Darth Vader keeping the same creative team throughout was a distinct bonus I didn’t think would be so important in the end, as it really made it feel like one cohesive story within the Star Wars universe since the visuals stayed consistent and the story’s vision never wavered. For every word Gillen has Vader say, which is rare and to the point (as it should be), Larroca (with Delgado’s colors) has created a landscape of words Vader doesn’t say out loud but through his posture and the way his menacing, inexpressive suit is framed. Likewise, the oddities that have been whale ships, Cylo clones, cyberanimate rancors, and so much more have all deftly felt like Star Wars under the work of the art team when a lesser team could’ve made these things harder pills to swallow. Gillen’s Vader is without question a giant asset to the films, and one could even argue an even more nuanced portrayal than they ever managed. From the start the creative team proved they were perfect for the job and until they very end they never disappointed. Big thanks to them for seeing their vision through.
Bonus one-shot review: “Coda” (written by Kieron Gillen, art by Max Fiumara, and colors by Dave Stewart): I’m not completely sure how to feel about “Coda,” the one-shot at the end of this issue, but I sure enjoyed the imagery and art style from Max Fiumara and colors of Dave Stewart. Both from the look of the art and the fact there’s not a single line of dialogue made it feel a lot like a tale one might see in cave drawings or some shaman might’ve conjured up by smoke in a more ancient time. The Tusken Raiders have always come off as the Native Americans to Tatooine’s western influences and this whole story seems to further that suggestion. Why the Tuskens build a shrine to Vader despite him slaughtering (another) of their tribes still isn’t totally clear to me, but it seems they consider him to be a god and decide to offer him the only survivor of his wrath in hopes of avoiding more slaughter to come. Will this become a practice they keep until the end of time, sacrificing one Tusken to appease their newfound vengeful god? Do they take Vader to be an embodiment of another god? Did I see them make the connection between Anakin’s slaughter and Vader’s most recent one? I’m not entirely sure how to feel about “Coda,” but it’s unique and its allegory might be up for you to decide.
Here are a few other things:
- Bria from Tosche-Station cosplayed as Dr. Aphra at NYCC this year and it looks great! And if that wasn’t enough to tell you how big of a fan she is of Aphra, here’s her review of issue #25.
- By the way, before you cry foul for Aphra surviving so long in space, let me point you to Pablo Hidalgo’s recent comment regarding the subject in Star Wars in the latest Rebels Recon at timestamp 4:43.
- There are two excellent and long interviews up at the official site with Kieron Gillen regarding the series as a whole (sans #25 details). The first one reveals that Gillen’s first SW movie was ESB so he’s weirdly writing the lead-in to his lead-in of the SW franchise, while the second one dives into Aphra and the murderbots.
- If you want to get technical, the Darth Vader series is comprised of 29 issues. 1 being it’s Annual, which tied into “The Shu-Torun War” arc, and the other 3 being the crossover issues from the “Vader Down” event.
- The series, or at least it’s first arc, was up for the Stan Lee Excelsior award and it won first place!
Overall, as unsurprising as most of this issue was due to it ending exactly as one should expect a series about Vader to end, his foes vanquished and him being on track for gaining even more power than ever before, Darth Vader issue #25 was an excellent wrap-up of everything the series set out to do with the character of Vader. Frequently, the series was fond of topping itself in terms of quality over its year and a half run, and #25 is the pinnacle of that success and creativity. Likewise, the survival of Dr. Aphra (and the murderbots) is one of biggest moments for the series, as she’s the only one to beat Vader, and her continued existent makes this fan very happy. It’s sad to see such a fantastic series go, but it went out on top and on its own terms, tying everything up neatly in a well-honed package of Star Wars fun, Sith Lord anger, and heaps of black humor. Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado have created a modern classic and capped it off in the best possible way. Was there ever any doubt?
+ The bait and switch of Dr. Aphra’s fate….
+ …as Dr. Aphra outsmarts Vader to live another day!
+ Vader’s thorough destruction of Cylo…
+ …and all his other enemies.
+ Wraps up the entire series and its arc for Vader expertly
+ Cheers to Kieron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado for this modern classic
STAR WARS CANON COMIC REVIEWS:
Vader (#1-6) | Shadows and Secrets (#7-12) | The Shu-Torun War (#16-19) | End of Games: #20 | #21 | #22 | #23 | #24 | Annual: #1
Vader Down (crossover of Star Wars and Darth Vader on-goings)
Skywalker Strikes (#1-6) | Old Ben’s Journals | Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon (#8-12) | Rebel Jail (#16-19) | The Last Flight of the Harbinger (#21-25)
The Last Padawan (#1-6) | First Blood (#7-12)
Black Squadron (#1-3) | Lockdown (#4-6) | The Gathering Storm (#7-10)
Han Solo (mini-series)
Obi-Wan & Anakin (mini-series)
Shattered Empire (mini-series)
Princess Leia (mini-series)
Darth Maul: Son of Dathomir (mini-series)